The Scotsman: Breaking away from the Children of God

From XFamily - Children of God

Breaking away from the Children of God

The Scotsman/1998-06-24

By Gordon Mackay.

One of the main reasons for the spreading of religious cults became apparent to me. One of the main reasons for the spreading of religious cults is that there are no laws covering them. Anyone is entitled to call their meeting place a church or a temple and, similarly, anyone can call themselves a "chosen one" or "saviour". Cults can only fall foul of the law if they apply for charitable status in order to avoid taxes or if someone from another group claims that the leader has stolen their title. Obviously, if physical or sexual abuse or some other crime can be conclusively proven they can also be charged under existing laws.

Although this low level of control over cults is understandable, and perhaps correct in a free society where people are entitled to believe as they wish, it shows that there is little the law does or can do to control cults and protect the public from them. This allows cults to pull people into their grasp under the false pretence of an established religion, a missionary or charity organisation.

This was precisely how Sylvia Padilla became involved in the Christian-based cult The Children of God, now better known as The Family. As a Christian, before becoming involved in the cult, Sylvia and her husband were drawn in by their appearance of being no more than an enthusiastic church group - a kind of missionary organisation. She recalled: "I thought they were missionaries a they appeared to do everything a genuine young people's mission would do."

This would certainly have been an easy mistake to make looking back on Sylvia's accounts of Bible reading, sharing of possessions and going out in attempts to help drug-users and homeless people. Most would find no problem with these events.

However, the problems and wrongs are there for all to see in the goings-on that Sylvia describes simply as "nasty stuff". The actual events she was understandably not keen to discuss but she summarised by talking of the list of unpleasant ordeals as "enormous" and by mentioning attempts to split up families and other "immoralities."

It is, however, the way in which the leaders of the group were able to control the minds, thoughts and lives of the members that appears to be the most frightening aspect of her experience. Out of a list of 26 mind-control techniques, she could remember the use of all but six of them. The ones used included sleep deprivation, dress code, isolation, guilt and one of the points she stressed to me, fear. Members within the group are afraid of the outside world because they are totally indoctrinated with the idea that everything outside the group is evil and that The Family can provide the only haven from it.

When the cult refused Sylvia permission to see her daughter on one occasion, and made her a part-time member as punishment over some petty rule about the number of people living in her group, Sylvia became seriously disillusioned with the cult.

Under other circumstances, a person with a free mind would have seriously considered leaving. Sylvia, however, was not of free mind. Even at this stage, after many other trying and unpleasant experiences, she did not even consider leaving the cult. "I would never have left," is how she remembers her thoughts at the time. She did, of course, leave in the end but this was only because of a church in London and an obvious strength in her character which allowed her to overcome her fear of all outside The Family. We can see through Sylvia's experience that cults use mind control to control the actions of the members.

Sylvia Padilla saw fear as the major factor of a cult's control.